Ms. Representation: Gantumoote-Coming of age, in her terms
This weekly column is a rumination on how women are portrayed in cinema and this week the author writes about the Kannada film, Gantumoote
I have been curious about the Kannada film, Gantumoote (Baggage), ever since I heard about it. A film about a teenage girl, titled ‘baggage’? When you think of your schooling days, nostalgia prevents the word ‘baggage’ or even trauma, from popping up on the radar. But if you think about it, those are the years when we ask some of the most important questions that determine who we are in the forthcoming years. Isn’t that how it always has been? Have you been asked, ‘What problem could you possibly have at this age?’ even by the most well-intentioned elders? There’s also the ‘you call this a problem?’ question. While most of our films romanticise this portion of our lives, we rarely ponder on the ‘baggage’ those years have gifted us. Time, in a way, makes those experiences, distant stories to us. What Gantumoote does, is present that experience to us in all its ragged, imperfect glory.
The film follows the story of Meera (Teju Belawadi), as she discovers love, heartbreak, patriarchy... For women, coming to terms with adulthood is an entirely different ball game, because suddenly you’re treated as a different specimen. What do you do when a guy gives you a rose? What do you do when he holds your hand? When do these ‘acts of affection’ begin to have an agenda behind them? It is not like we are taught all this. Along the way, one learns how to navigate through the convoluted social rules that women are expected to adhere to. I was intrigued when the initial card claimed that the film is a fictional story, only to add a ‘or not’ with a wink in the next frame. But when the film ended, I understood why this was added. It’s a journey that feels personal because most of us, women, would have gone through these stages, experienced these questions. When the answers society offers us don’t feel satisfactory, we find our own.
Gantumoote beautifully registers the exploration that happens during these years, when we defy all we have been taught to form our own rules. And the relationship with the teacher most of us have in this phase: Films. Meera witnesses a fellow classmate torture her friend saying he loves her, and he has to get her. When the boy harms himself to prove a point, she dully wonders where he gets such ideas from. “Was it SRK’s Darr or Om?” she asks. In fact, her love for Salman Khan gets her drawn to Madhu, who in her eyes, looks like the actor from a few angles. This progression is relatable and refreshingly, realistic. It shows that there’s a woman behind the scenes (writer and director Roopa Rao) calling the shots. The film refuses to take the lens off our dynamic protagonist as she figures out life.
We don’t see adult women written so well, let alone young women. Rarely do we see the feminine gaze get documented in such detail, with such realism. There is a terrific scene where Madhu and Meera kiss in a theatre, and Madhu places his hand on her thigh. Meera suddenly pulls back, reminded of the time when she was harassed by a man in a theatre. It takes her time to realise that this isn’t that moment, this isn’t that man. It’s such maturity in this film that makes it one of a kind. The film doesn’t brush off Meera’s questions or feelings as inane, like her mother does.
To the women out there, do you remember the first time you were called a ‘slut’? I do: the memory still resides in the dark alleys of my brain. It came at an age where I didn’t understand the politics behind such ‘slurs’, or that they could be an easy way to shock a woman into silence. Meera slowly understands this as well. After days of torture, she sees that all it takes to silence those boys is just an indifferent glance. It is a silent moment of triumph that most women could easily relate to.
Teju Belawadi plays Meera with a rooted, refined sensibility that is hard to find on screen. She brings a certain heft and depth to an already intricately fleshed out character. It is the small things really, of showing how it still hurts even if your brain knows otherwise. The film breathes along with her, capturing the pauses, the lingering thoughts, the deliberation and everything in between.
The film ends with Meera, who finds temporary solace on a hilltop, struggling to deal with Madhu’s demise. “Someone invaded my privacy; that didn’t kill me. Someone invaded my self-respect; that didn’t kill me as well. He invaded my soul and changed everything. I guess this wouldn’t kill me either. You’re the baggage of my soul. All I can do is to carry it gracefully.” The film does the same — carry Meera’s baggage with all the sensitivity and grace her journey deserves.